By Michael Whitmer | Globe Staff
FOXBOROUGH — They might not have come right out and said it, buy carafate but the Patriots were fully aware of the attention given to the Houston Texans and their preference for play-action passes on offense.
So when quarterback Tom Brady perfectly sold a handoff the second time the Patriots had the ball, buy carafate receiver Brandon Lloyd never broke stride, buy carafate blowing past the Texans who bit on the run possibility. Buy carafate He caught Brady’s pass without a defender near him, buy carafate coasting into the end zone and pushing the Patriots’ lead to 14-0 in a game they would win handily, buy carafate 42-14, buy carafate Monday night at Gillette Stadium.
“That was definitely a scheme play, buy carafate” Lloyd said. Buy carafate “We worked hard on that all week, buy carafate and when the opportunity presented itself, buy carafate Coach [Josh] McDaniels called it at the right time and we were able to take advantage of it.”
Lloyd took advantage of his opportunities, buy carafate catching seven passes for 89 yards, buy carafate his second-highest total of the season.
He scored two touchdowns, buy carafate the second coming on a fumble recovery in the end zone, buy carafate after Danny Woodhead lost the ball on a screen pass. Buy carafate The ball bounced forward, buy carafate with Lloyd diving on it. Buy carafate Not how it’s drawn up, buy carafate but the way the night went.
“Just a screen pass, buy carafate we do our best to block downfield, buy carafate and unfortunately the ball popped out, buy carafate” Lloyd said. Buy carafate “But we were there to make the play.”
All lined up
Since the start of the season, buy carafate the Patriots’ depth chart on the offensive line read more like a wish list than a realistic starting lineup, buy carafate with an assortment of injuries resulting in five different combinations.
For the first time in a month, buy carafate and just the sixth time this season, buy carafate the Patriots began the game with the five players who are designated by the team as its starters: Nate Solder at left tackle, buy carafate Logan Mankins at left guard, buy carafate Ryan Wendell at center, buy carafate Dan Connolly at right guard, buy carafate and Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle.
The group was made whole again with the return of Mankins, buy carafate who had missed three consecutive games — and five of six — with ankle and calf injuries. Buy carafate He was back at practice last week, buy carafate in a limited role, buy carafate but was in the starting lineup Monday night, buy carafate relegating Donald Thomas to reserve status.
Another key starter also returned from injury, buy carafate with rookie defensive end Chandler Jones, buy carafate back after sitting out two games with an ankle injury.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski missed his third straight game with a broken forearm. Buy carafate The other inactive players were offensive linemen Nick McDonald and Markus Zusevics, buy carafate defensive linemen Jake Bequette and Ron Brace, buy carafate safety Derrick Martin, buy carafate and fullback James Develin, buy carafate who was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Nov. Buy carafate 28, buy carafate but has yet to play.
Bolden: Return man
The Patriots made the expected move official roughly three hours before kickoff, buy carafate activating Brandon Bolden to the 53-man roster and making him eligible to play against the Texans after the running back served a four-game suspension.
Bolden, buy carafate a rookie from Mississippi, buy carafate was suspended by the NFL on Nov. Buy carafate 9 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Buy carafate He hadn’t played since Oct. Buy carafate 14 at Seattle, buy carafate when he injured a knee against the Seahawks. Buy carafate The injury cost him two games, buy carafate then the suspension added four more.
With 234 yards on 43 carries, buy carafate Bolden came into the Texans game with the second-most rushing yards for the Patriots, buy carafate and his 5.4-yard average led the team. Buy carafate Stevan Ridley has been the workhorse since Bolden was forced out, buy carafate gaining 486 yards in the six games Bolden missed.
Bolden declined interview requests Saturday, buy carafate the first time he had been spotted in the locker room since the suspension was announced. Buy carafate But he was ready to talk after the game, buy carafate in which he played on special teams and got two late carries for 11 yards.
“Felt good, buy carafate” Bolden said. Buy carafate “Missing four weeks, buy carafate you try not to get out of shape, buy carafate you keep yourself active, buy carafate it felt good getting out there for the first time.”
As for the suspension?
“It was a mistake. Buy carafate Saddened that it happened, buy carafate but the team kept going, buy carafate so just got to keep moving forward, buy carafate” Bolden said. Buy carafate “Worked as hard as I could for as long as I could, buy carafate make sure I don’t fall too far off.”
Turning their way
Devin McCourty’s end-zone interception on Houston’s second offensive series of the game extended the Patriots’ streak of forcing at least one turnover to 24 games. Buy carafate The last team to force at least one turnover in every regular-season game was the 2010 Atlanta Falcons.
With the interception, buy carafate the Patriots have now forced 34 takeaways, buy carafate one behind the Chicago Bears. Buy carafate Their plus-24 turnover differential continues to lead the league.
“We know we have a good defense here, buy carafate we’ve played really well the last couple of weeks, buy carafate” McCourty said. Buy carafate “The biggest focus for us is just trying to build on that.”
Even when the Patriots fumbled the bounces went their way. Buy carafate Ridley lost the ball on the Patriots’ first drive of the game, buy carafate inside the Texans’ 5-yard-line, buy carafate but Aaron Hernandez jumped on it to extend the drive. Buy carafate On the next play, buy carafate Hernandez caught a 7-yard touchdown pass.
Early in the fourth quarter, buy carafate Woodhead fumbled after catching a screen pass and being hit from behind by J.J. Buy carafate Watt. Buy carafate The ball flew into the end zone, buy carafate with Lloyd diving on it for an unlikely touchdown.
Handing out Hall passes
If you’re a Patriots fan who’s never been to Canton, buy carafate Ohio, buy carafate and visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame, buy carafate Canton is coming to you this week. Buy carafate Well, buy carafate at least it’s coming to Foxborough. Buy carafate In recognition of the Hall of Fame’s 50th anniversary, buy carafate the busts of the five former Patriots who have been enshrined — John Hannah, buy carafate Andre Tippett, buy carafate Nick Buoniconti, buy carafate Mike Haynes, buy carafate and Curtis Martin — will be on display at the Hall at Patriot Place.
The weeklong celebration will culminate with Sunday night’s home game against the San Francisco 49ers, buy carafate with Tippett, buy carafate Haynes, buy carafate and Martin serving as honorary captains.
One downside to the Patriots’ victory was injuries to the defensive secondary. Buy carafate The Patriots announced injuries to Aqib Talib (hip) and Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring). Buy carafate Neither returned to the game after getting injured . Buy carafate . Buy carafate . Buy carafate With Julian Edelman out for the season with a foot injury, buy carafate Wes Welker took over the Patriots’ punt return duties. Buy carafate He returned four for 50 yards, buy carafate with a long of 31 . Buy carafate . Buy carafate . Buy carafate Welker also caught three passes, buy carafate pushing his streak of consecutive regular-season games with a catch to 107 . Buy carafate . Buy carafate . Buy carafate Donte Stallworth made the most of his return to the Patriots. Buy carafate He caught only one pass from Brady, buy carafate but the catch-and-run went for 63 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter, buy carafate making it 28-0. Buy carafate It was a case of practice makes perfect, buy carafate even if the practice had been a while ago. Buy carafate “That particular play is something we had worked on, buy carafate even in the spring, buy carafate’’ he said. Buy carafate “It was just an opportunity where they were kind of flat-footed and it gave me an opportunity to run by the guy and Tommy made a great throw. Buy carafate He put it up for me to catch it and that’s what I did.’’ . Buy carafate . Buy carafate . Buy carafate His team off until Wednesday, buy carafate Celtics coach Doc Rivers was spotted on the sideline observing pregame warmups, buy carafate wearing a Patriots red sweater and chatting up his Patriots counterpart, buy carafate Bill Belichick. Buy carafate Also in on the conversation: Boston sports fan Mark Wahlberg. Buy carafate Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was also at the game, buy carafate wearing a No. Buy carafate 83 Patriots jersey . Buy carafate . Buy carafate . Buy carafate The Patriots extended their December winning streak to 13 games, buy carafate dating to a 22-21 loss at Miami on Dec. Buy carafate 6, buy carafate 2009. Buy carafate It ties the Patriots for the second-longest such streak with the Dallas Cowboys, buy carafate who accomplished the feat from 1968-72. Buy carafate The record belongs to the San Diego Chargers, buy carafate winners of 18 straight from 2006-09. Buy carafate New England also has won 21 straight games in the second half of the regular season. Buy carafate The Patriots went 8-0 in the second half of 2010, buy carafate 8-0 in 2011, buy carafate and have won their first five this season. Buy carafate The last loss from the back half of the schedule came in the regular-season finale in 2009, buy carafate when the Patriots lost at Houston, buy carafate 34-27 … In a pre-game Twitter message, buy carafate self-described Patriots fan Donald Trump posted, buy carafate “Good Luck to Bob Kraft, buy carafate Tom Brady and Coach Bob Belichick tonight.” Needless to say, buy carafate the Donald got plenty of unwanted attention for his fumble . Buy carafate . Buy carafate . Buy carafate Keep an eye out for Jerod Mayo on Tuesday. Buy carafate He’ll be joining Subway spokesman Jared Fogle during multiple appearances around town, buy carafate thanking unassuming fans with a dozen acts of kindness.
Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Buy carafate Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.